Our fight to save Stitch…How a good deed went terribly wrong
by Hollye Dexter
Three years ago, we adopted a sweet little French bulldog named Stitch. The woman who owned him told us his sad story. Her teenage daughter had been given the dog as a gift, but the girl was wild and out of control, partying, disappearing for weeks at a time with her adult boyfriend.
Stitch had been locked in the teen’s room for days without sunshine or exercise, having to relieve himself on the carpet. The daughter had taken him to a wild party where he had become so distressed that he jumped through a pane glass window to escape. And eventually, in their care, the dog ended up abandoned in the middle of a highway 10 hours away in Nevada City. With a cigarette burn on his neck.
We were grateful to be able to provide Stitch with a stable, happy home. We microchipped and licensed him and got his necessary shots. And then we fell completely in love with him.
Soon after, the teenage daughter’s adult boyfriend began calling our home, harassing us, telling us the dog was his and to return Stitch to him. He even filed a police report against us for theft. After much drama – too much to recount here, the boyfriend sued us last year for more than $25,000, accusing us of theft and intentional infliction of emotional distress on HIM.
Although this man has no legal documentation or paperwork of any kind linking him to Stitch, and we have all the legal paperwork and proof, we still had to defend ourselves in court. For a year and a half we have been fighting with the aid of our attorneys, specialists in animal rights, Jill Ryther and Shannon Keith (founder of the Beagle Freedom Project and A.R.M.E.) This lawsuit has drained our finances, and maxed out our credit. But we were buoyed by the support of friends and family, and because we knew that, although it wasn’t the easy thing, we were doing the right thing, and soon justice would prevail and it would all be worth it.
But on June 2nd, the unthinkable happened.
We lost the trial. We were given ten days to turn Stitch over to the people who neglected and abandoned him.
The “plaintiff” never proved in court that Stitch ever belonged to him. He presented falsified documents that our attorneys readily struck down. His documents were for the purchase of a French bulldog with an ID number that was not related to Stitch, and didn’t have the guy’s name nor a date anywhere on the paperwork. All his witnesses, (one who sported a bleach blonde four-inch high Mohawk, another that seemed obviously high on the stand, another who came in weak and emaciated with a hospital bracelet on his wrist) contradicted each other. The original owner of Stitch who “supposedly” gave Stitch to the plaintiff, didn’t come to court because he was just out of rehab.
This is the group of people the judge ordered me to turn our Stitch over to.
The guy admitted on the stand to losing Stitch as many as five times. He admitted that the last time Stitch went missing he didn’t go looking for him until a couple days later, because he “figured he’d turn up”, and because he lets Stitch run loose on the five acre property where he stays in a guest house. He said Stitch often ran off chasing bears and such. Our Stitch is a French bulldog, not a hunting dog. They aren’t supposed to be outdoors for long periods because they have breathing problems and can overheat, leading to asphyxiation. Never in our care did Stitch even attempt to run off. In fact, he is such a loyal companion, he follows me from room to room.
The “plaintiff” had never given Stitch his puppy shots, never licensed him, never microchipped him even though he lost him numerous times and went on and on about what an “expensive” dog Stitch is (although he never paid a dime for Stitch or his care).
Meanwhile, everyone said our case was a slam dunk. We did all the right things legally. We microchipped and licensed him. We gave him all the proper vaccinations and regular vet care. We wipe the folds under his eyes every day with special medicated cloth. We give him oatmeal baths for his sensitive skin. We fed him organic food for his sensitive digestive system.
The judge based his decision on the “Lost Property Statute” which basically applies to material goods. In other words, as the opposing attorney used in his argument against us, if you leave your bicycle at the beach, and three weeks later you see someone else riding your bicycle, they are obligated to give it back to you. And we said the obvious “Stitch is not a bicycle. He is a living thing who needs love and care, and he was abandoned.” You can leave a bicycle in a hot car. You don’t feed or love a bicycle.
But the judge ruled as though Stitch were a bicycle.
The judgment came by mail, and my attorney had to call me with the bad news. I cried a mountain of tears. I stayed up all night asking my self How could this happen? Why did this happen? Is this a bad dream? How can this be real?
This fight has been a year and a half of our lives. It has consumed my time, my attention, my energy, my creativity, my bank account… I am beyond depleted. But if we don’t fight, what will happen to Stitch?
So we appealed, and now, once again, we await our hearing, on August 25th at the Chatsworth Courthouse, as Stitch lies beside me snoring, oblivious to the whirlwind of drama surrounding him.
I have always been a law-abiding citizen, but I will also show up to protest when laws are unjust, for the law has often been wrong. Slavery, segregation, Jim Crow laws, laws that kept women from voting, and this law…. “Lost Property Statute”. This law was created over a century ago and applied to physical property and livestock. It was not intended to apply to family pets.
A dog is not a bicycle. They are living breathing beings who need love and care. They are our family members.
And so the fight continues.
For more info on how you can help: http://savestitch.webs.com